The outspoken cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, is seeking to lead Pakistan as prime minister.
Contesting its third elections, Khan’s opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is poised to make inroads at the country’s general elections on Wednesday.
He has appealed to the masses, especially the younger generation, with his campaign slogan of creating a “new Pakistan” and rooting out corruption.
Michael Kugelman, a US-based analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, DC, said Khan’s rise to power would be in line with global trends, where “maverick, unconventional, and shoot-from-the-hip national leaders” are enjoying a renaissance.
“For Imran Khan’s legion of devoted followers, he represents the new, bold, incorruptible leader that the country has long sought,” Kugelman told Al Jazeera in an emailed interview. “In reality, there would be some considerable concerns about a Prime Minister Khan, ranging from his complete lack of experience in holding the national power to his proud and stubborn personality, which could worry a Pakistani military that prefers that civilian leaders be pliable.”
Khan, 65, was born and raised in an affluent ethnic Pashtun family in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, Punjab.
He was schooled at Lahore’s elite all-boys Aitchison College before graduating from Oxford University in 1975 with a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics.
As the captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team, Khan famously led the country to its first and only victory at the 1992 World Cup in Australia.
After retiring from the sport, Khan devoted most of his time to philanthropy and social work.
He launched Pakistan’s first specialized cancer center, Shaukat Khanum, named after his late mother who succumbed to the disease.
In 2008, Khan also established a private technical college in Punjab’s rural Mianwali district, called Namal College.
Increasingly disillusioned by the county’s bureaucracy and endemic corruption, Khan entered the political realm in 1996, founding his centrist PTI party with a promise of ensuring “insaf” (justice) for all.
As party chairman, Khan won his first seat in the National Assembly in the 2002 general elections, contesting from his paternal ancestral hometown of Mianwali, Punjab.
Following a boycott of the 2008 polls as a stance against corruption, Khan stunned the political classes in Islamabad by unexpectedly attracting hundreds of thousands of supporters to public rallies in Lahore and Karachi in late 2011.
After a provincial victory at the 2013 general elections, PTI governed the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for five years.
“Since emerging as a major player in Pakistani politics in 2013, what Pakistan has seen of Imran Khan is a lot of disruptive and agitational politics, a lot of disregard for elected institutions including the parliament to which he was elected but he hardly went there,” said Aamer Ahmed Khan, a Karachi-based journalist.
Khan led Pakistan to its first and only cricket World Cup victory in 1992
Khan has long been a vocal critic of the now-jailed prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
He led protests in 2014, demanding that the government, led by Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), resign over alleged poll-rigging.
Khan pushed the Supreme Court case instigated by the Panama Papers leak scandal against Sharif, which ultimately led to his disqualification and imprisonment.
Khan’s rivals say his rise and the fall of Sharif was engineered by the establishment – a local metaphor used for Pakistan’s powerful military. Khan denies the allegations as a “foreign conspiracy” to malign the army, which also rejects the charge.
Ahead of the elections, under the slogan of “new Pakistan”, Khan spearheaded a campaign against corruption with a promise to reform systems of governance in the country.
Khan has pledged to create as many as 10 million jobs, in addition to building five million low-cost housing units over the next five years, according to his party manifesto.
“Pakistan is broken from inside, not from outside; and when Pakistan reforms itself from the inside, the outside will improve very significantly,” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences in a phone interview. “And he [Khan] is the right man to take courageous decisions.”
What Pakistan has seen of Imran Khan is a lot of disruptive and agitational politics, a lot of disregard for elected institutions, including the parliament.
Internationally, Khan has called for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute with rival and neighbour India within the parameters of the UN Security Council resolutions.
The PTI head has criticised US policy in Afghanistan and called for peace talks to be held with the Taliban, forcing his critics to call him “Taliban Khan” for being too soft on the armed group. He vehemently denies the accusations.
If elected, analysts and critics say the inexperienced public office holder will face significant domestic and foreign policy challenges.
“Internationally, Khan would have to deal with two neighbours – India and Afghanistan – that mistrust Pakistan in a big way and will be watching closely to see how conciliatory a message Pakistan’s next leader delivers to them, and how much policy space the military gives that new leader to wage foreign policy,” said Kugelman.
“There is also the troubled relationship with the US, which Khan has vociferously criticised over the years and will be in no rush to try to improve.”